FORT DRUM, NY — Musicians have a unique ability to tell stories through songs, and the 10th Mountain Division Band has some great ones to share with the public.
A new summer concert series at LeRay Mansion titled “America’s Songs: Music that Shaped Our Nation” will explore the unique songbook that made this country what it is today. The first of three performances is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 4.
“Our first concert explores the stories behind our most treasured patriotic tunes,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Parker, 10th Mountain Division Band commander. “If you wrote down a list of all the patriotic American tunes you could think of, I am confident that we have many – if not all – of those on our set list.”
Attendees will hear the band perform “America, the Beautiful,” “God Bless the U.S.A.,” “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Ballad of the Green Berets,” to name a few.
“We really tried to look across the history of the nation and create a list of songs that form the national canon of patriotic music,” Parker said. “But we’ve made a few adjustments, too. For this first concert, I’m not just using the concert band as a whole, but I’m also using smaller breakout groups as well to add variety, to play some of these tunes in ways that people may not have heard them before.”
Sgt. 1st Class Christine Permenter, vocalist, said that she is excited to try some of the variations to the standards when she performs with the rock band.
“We do a kind of Frank Zappa rendition of ‘America, the Beautiful’ that is amazing, and we’re taking inspiration from Little Feat for ‘This Land is Your Land,'” she said. “Those are, by far, my favorites.”
Parker said that the intent of the concert is to explore the connections between the patriotic tunes and demonstrate how the songs – born out of the American spirit – helped fuel national sentiment in their time and beyond.
He cited “My Country Tis of Thee” as an example. The music had served as the foundation of several foreign national anthems – and is still the melody of England’s national anthem – yet maintains its popularity as an American patriotic tune. He also said that Irving Berlin, a Russian immigrant, wrote “God Bless America” to express gratitude for the opportunities this country provided him.
“These songs, with their wonderfully diverse stories, both reflect their time in history and shape our national identity,” Parker said. “Each song we play in the patriotic canon of songs somehow captures both the spirit and identity of the American people.”
The band’s Jazz Ensemble will perform the second concert in the series, “Our Jazz Roots,” at 7 p.m. July 23 at LeRay Mansion. This will showcase jazz and its evolution into rhythm and blues, soul, Motown, funk and pop.
“Both jazz and blues served as vehicles for musicians to tell the story of America,” Parker said. “If not for the influences of Glenn Miller’s ‘In the Mood’ or Robert Johnson’s delta blues, we wouldn’t have artists like Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, James Brown and Elvis Presley, all who shaped the culture a generation later. And we wouldn’t have modern musicians like Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Chris Stapleton and Childish Gambino, who are shaping the national zeitgeist now.”
The series finale is set for 7 p.m. Aug. 22, featuring the 10th Mountain Division Rock Band in a concert titled “Red, White and Blues.” This performance will explore the nation’s folk and blues music, and its transformation into rock ‘n’ roll and pop.
“I think both the Jazz Ensemble and the Rock Band are both excited for a chance to further the narrative and explore musical genres in ways that only they can do,” Parker said. “All the musicians are excited at the idea of the concert series, especially one that we can do on our home turf.”
The idea for the concert series originated last summer when Parker met with Dr. Laurie Rush, Fort Drum Cultural Resources manager. He said that he was looking for inspiration from the history of this area to build a concept for the holiday concert series in December. They ultimately went another direction for those performances, but the summer concert concept evolved from that discussion.
“The concert series looks to explore those music forms and to trace their evolution to today, always asking the question, ‘How did this music either reflect American ideals of the time or influence it for later generations?'” he said. “It sounds a little academic but, as with many of our shows, we are trying to create an entertaining performance that seamlessly incorporates messaging. Part of the mission of any Army band is to promote the Army and our national interests by conveying national value and build national sentiment. We always keep that in mind while preparing our concerts.”
Permenter said that LeRay Mansion is a great venue for performing an outdoor concert.
“I absolutely love performing at LeRay Mansion,” she said. “The first time I performed there was for the commanding general’s New Year’s reception, and I had never been there before. It was beautiful.”
Parker agreed that LeRay Mansion is probably the best “concert in the park” site for the band.
“LeRay Mansion is out of the way from the high-traffic training areas; it has infrastructure to support a live performance; and it has the draw from both military and civilian populations,” he said. “But most importantly, LeRay Mansion is a cultural icon with ties to both the military population of Fort Drum and the civilian population of the North Country. And Dr. Rush and her team have done a fantastic job of highlighting its historical importance. It’s a great venue for a concert.”
Spc. Gabe Ferreira, clarinetist, said they have been rehearsing at least three hours daily for the concerts, while practicing for and performing at other events.
“We tend to stay busy,” he said. “But we set aside blocks of time when we all rehearse, so it’s basic time management. These concerts are our main priority right now.”
Ferreira has been performing with the band for past nine months with the woodwind ensemble and a clarinet quartet.
“I’m pretty excited about the concerts at LeRay,” he said. “I think they’re going to be great.”
Performances are free and open to the public. Attendees are asked to bring their own chairs or blankets for seating. Beverages and snacks will be available for purchase with cash only, but people may bring their own food.
All parking for this event will be located at the Light Fighters School lot, and shuttle transportation will be provided. Visitors can obtain a day pass at the Fort Drum Welcome Center to the right of Cerjan Gate.
Written by Mike Strasser
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs